Every NASCAR Cup Series race held so far in the 2020 season has been filled with unknowns but perhaps none have come with as many question marks as this weekend’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. Atlanta Motor Speedway has undergone a major refurbishing since the last race held here in the summer of 2021. The worn surface has been repaved. The banking has been altered and the racing groove has been narrowed. As a result of those changes, NASCAR has called for the teams to employ the same engine rules and aero package as those used at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Super Speedway.
Add to all of that, teams are still searching for the right formula for the new Next Gen car. This is, after all, only the fifth points-paying race of the 2022 season for this new machine.
Weather also played a role in the preparation for this race, but perhaps in a good way. A practice session had been scheduled for Friday afternoon but rain took away that opportunity. With all three divisions racing on what is essentially a new track, NASCAR opted to do away with qualifying and allow each division almost one full hour for practice on Saturday.
The field was set using the formula typically employed when the schedule has to be altered for weather or other factors.
By all indications, this track is going to call for pack-type racing with large clusters of cars running in groups throughout the day. From Saturday’s practice, it looked as if the closing rate from trailing cars to those ahead is significant, especially when two cars at the front of the pack are in side-by-side formation and especially when going through the double-dogleg toward turn one. Obviously, that could lead to all sorts of issues for the drivers and teams.
While it would seem logical that drivers would be somewhat cautious in this new environment, at least during the early part of the race on Sunday, there are still any number of things that could lead to a major mishap such as tire or mechanical failures at the most inopportune times.
One particular hazard for drivers appears to be getting on to pit road during green flag stops. While Daytona and Talladega offer wide runoff areas to make it easier for those coming to pit road and for those passing them, Atlanta Motor Speedway does not provide such an area. With that closing rate already mentioned, the entrance to pit road certainly bears watching on Sunday.
Even though Atlanta Motor Speedway might be one of NASCAR’s oldest venues, this track will be provide a completely new situation when the green flag waves on Sunday afternoon.
Predicted Winner: A driver whose car looked good on Saturday and who has been solid all season is Joey Logano and that’s who I am picking to win today in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 in Atlanta.
The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 will air live on Fox with the start time slated for 3:00pm.
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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
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